BBC Comedy Boss Says We Would Be Happy To Talk With John Cleese Over Fawlty Towers Revival As He Presents Next Generation Of Very British Shows

BBC Comedy Director Jon Petrie has said his team would be “happy to talk” with John Cleese about the upcoming Fawlty Towers revival, as he unveiled the next generation of “very British” shows.

Cleese has already said that the surprise revival, which he is making with daughter Camilla Cleese and Rob Reiner’s Castle Rock Entertainment, will not appear on the BBC because the UK broadcaster would not give him sufficient editorial freedom.

But addressing a BBC Comedy Showcase Tuesday, Petrie described BBC original Fawlty Towers as a “legendary show” and said he would be open to discussions.

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“We found out about [the Fawlty Towers revival] when everyone else did,” he added. “I don’t know if it would work for us and we’ve not spoken to John Cleese but it’s obviously a legendary show and we would be happy to talk to John if he wanted to talk about it.”

Cleese’s revival of what is broadly considered to be the greatest British comedy of all time, which aired more than 40 years ago, will see his over-the-top misanthrope Basil Fawlty navigate the modern world in a “small bijou hotel” in the Caribbean.

In recent years, the now-archly-anti-woke 83-year-old has repeatedly criticized the BBC for failing to show repeats of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, while he plans to host a show for right-leaning UK network GB News that will champion free speech.

“Very British” comedy

Almost 18 months into the role, Petrie was speaking to the press as he unveiled a set of seven comedies including Catherine Tate’s Queen of Oz, Black Ops from the creators of Famalam, Thatcher-era show Undoing Martin Parker and Dreaming Whilst Black, which is produced by Big Deal Films and backed by A24.

Despite intense competition from rival networks and U.S. streamers, he said the shows, none of which are co-produced, “feel very British,” as he celebrated “an amazing” 2022 during which there were more than 500 million iPlayer requests for BBC comedy.

“I don’t think you’d find these on streamers or with competitors,” he added. “All SVoD players are underpinned by comedy but iPlayer is unique in being underpinned by British comedy – British comedy for British audiences.”

Flagging the likes of Outlaws with Amazon Prime Video and Starstruck with HBO Max, Petrie said he remains open to U.S. co-productions but projects “must work for a British audience.”

He is nonetheless “prioritizing British talent,” given the possibility of U.S. writers seeking work in the UK in the coming months due to the looming writers’ strike.

Questioned on whether sketch shows can work on the BBC, Petrie said “the bar is high” and the sub-genre is “expensive.” The corporation has been light on sketch shows in recent years, only greenlighting Famalam and Ellie & Natasia from Stath Lets Flats duo Ellie White and Natasia Demetriou.

Petrie also stressed the contemporary nature of his new comedy slate.

Kat Sadler’s Such Brave Girls pilot will tackle issues around teen mental health “sensitively and with all the appropriate warnings,” while apocalypse comedy Henpocalypse! comes with HBO’s The Last of Us dominating the discourse.

“Nothing in comedy should go untouched,” he added. “You should be able to look at all aspects of life as long as it’s funny and dealt with in the right way.”

Four of the seven comedies are written by women in a traditionally male-dominated field but Petrie said this move “wasn’t deliberate.”

Petrie joined the BBC in 2021 after stints at Charlie Brooker’s Broke & Bones and Stath Lets Flats indie Roughcut TV.

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